Today is the first day of school in Newtown, Connecticut and – perhaps as you are reading this post – the students of Sandy Hook Elementary School will be gathering in their beautiful new building for the first time. The former building was razed in 2013 and I assume you remember why.
The new school has two inside “tree houses” overlooking the forest outside. The roof undulates over glass and wood. The lobby is decorated with aluminum tree sculptures. Native plants will be watered outside by a landscape bioswale. The new school points to life and living.
There is art work in the hallway that says: “Be kind.”
What the people of Newtown, CT – and all of us – are witnessing today is resurrection. Our church buildings could learn from this.
As I’ve shared before, the Arlington Presbyterian Church building in Arlington, VA is being razed so that affordable housing can be erected, with space for the church to meet as well. The new complex will be called Gilliam Place in memory of a church member whose name has adorned the church’s clothing bank for over 30 years. This is not bad news. This is life-giving news.
In the United States of America alone, religious denominations and independent congregations own millions and millions of dollars worth of real estate. Some of those church buildings are in disrepair to the point of being uninhabitable. Many church buildings are on the market. Many more should be.
The only reason for any church to have a building is to use it as a tool for ministry. Our church buildings exist to declare resurrection.
They are not club houses or museums. They exist to serve the neighborhood and beyond. They endure to harbor those who need spiritual nourishment, food, shelter, counseling, support, education, friendship, and a place to connect with God and other human beings.
Yesterday I was honored to be with a congregation who made the faithful and selfless decision to sell their building to the school next door (who needed more space) and then to close. The members made a spiritually mature move to offer resurrection to other ministries in their community by sharing some of their assets with neighboring churches and other organizations. It felt like a death because it was a death. But after death, many of us believe in resurrection.
Or do we?
Do we believe that there can be resurrection even after a horrific crime? After a congregation no longer has the energy to start something completely new? After a neighborhood changes or an act of nature destroys property?
This is the hope of our faith: that there is always resurrection even in the darkest times. Our job as followers of Jesus is to work for resurrection for as long as we can. It’s so easy to forget this.